Your Hospital Can Be Hazardous to Your Health


     By Tolmage, Peskin, Harris, Falick

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Preventable hospital mistakes range from U.S. surgeons operating on the wrong person or body part, happening as much as 40 times per week, to a hospital staff member’s failure to properly disinfect a room or wash his hands. The landscape of the modern medical system at first can seem quite picturesque. American hospitals are capable of great feats: saving lives, curing disease, and inventing new procedures.

These successes rise like mountains in the sky, focusing attention on the positive peaks in our hospital system. But that pretty picture also has deep dark valleys. These valleys are made up of preventable mistakes that cause almost 100,000 American hospital deaths each year. .

Preventable hospital mistakes range from U.S. surgeons operating on the wrong person or body part, happening as much as 40 times per week, to a hospital staff member’s failure to properly disinfect a room or wash his hands. Modern medicine is becoming increasingly complex with thousands of diagnosis and drugs, but the simplest precautions to ensure the safety of patients are being overlooked. Recently some hospitals have greatly reduced infections and injuries by using simple tools such as checklists and training, yet others keep using a failing system that remains unchecked. If you or someone you love has been injured by a preventable hospital mistake, contact a New York medical malpractice lawyer to learn more about your legal rights.

Amid the growing concerns about hospital infections and the continuing concerns about the rise in drug-resistant bacteria, health care worker’s clothing are getting more attention. While there is extensive research on the benefits of hand washing and equipment sterilization in hospitals, little is known about the role that ties, white coats, long sleeves and soiled scrubs play in the spread of bacteria. In 2008 the British National Health Service imposed a “bare below the elbows” rule barring doctors from wearing ties and long sleeves, both of which are known to accumulate germs as doctors move from patient to patient. Currently, there are no such rules in US hospitals. Regarding scrubs, most hospitals in the US encourage medical workers to change out of soiled scrubs before leaving, but enforcement can be lax. It is not uncommon to see medical professionals and aids traveling on public transportation to and from their hospitals in scrubs where they become a magnet for bacteria. A study at a Connecticut hospital sought to gauge the role that clothing plays in the spread of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The study found that if a worker entered a room where the patient had MRSA, the bacteria would end up on the clothing 70% of the time, even if the worker had not touched the patient.

Recent studies suggest that the real risks for hospitalized patients may be a well kept secret. A January report on Medicare patients found that 86 percent of injuries to patients are not even reported by hospital staff. If errors are not disclosed then there is little hope that they can be corrected. This same study showed that one in seven Medicare patients died or suffered serious or long term injuries resulting from poor hospital care. Nearly 44 percent of these problems were found to be preventable.

These mistakes are not only costing lives but tipping the scales in an already shaky economic balancing act. The total national costs of the lost income, lost household production, disability and healthcare costs of preventable hospital mistakes are estimated to be between seventeen and twenty nine billion dollars. .

Shedding light onto the problem of preventable hospital errors may be the quickest solution to a growing problem. Twenty nine states now require public reporting of hospital infection rates. At least twenty eight states are requiring reporting on medical errors. Since 1998 NY has in place a system for reporting and tracking adverse medical events in hospitals. An adverse result is considered to be an “unintended adverse and undesirable development in an individual patient’s condition that was not caused by the natural course of illness, disease or proper treatment.” However, it is essentially a voluntary reporting program with little consistence among reporting facilities. Medicare now restricts payments to hospitals for costs associated with ten hospital acquired ailments and plans to give extra funding to hospitals scoring highest on a set of standards linked to better patient results.

New York hospitals also have farther to go in reducing hospital-acquired infections. The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Reports nearly 1.7 million hospital-acquired infections occur annually, leading to approximately 99,000 deaths a year. At any one point in time one in every 20 hospital patients in the United States has a hospital-acquired infection.

According to the 2010 Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) hospital quality performance report, New York did “worse than average” on two infection indicators, “postoperative sepsis per 1,000 elective surgery discharges” and “selected infections due to medical care per 1,000 discharges.” The Consumer Reports hospital patient safety rankings released in 2012 also found that New York’s hospitals do poorly on infection prevention. New York was 16% worse than the nation in cardiac surgery infections and 21% less in bloodstream infections. According to Consumer Reports, after bloodstream infections, surgical site infections are the common hospital-acquired infection.

Until the landscape of medical care is changed, patients must take steps to protect themselves. Bringing a friend or relative to keep a watchful eye and being diligent in communicating all medications and concerns to the hospital staff are simple ways to prevent harmful mistakes.

If you or someone you love has been injured or harmed by medical negligence, contact an experienced New York medical malpractice attorney. A lawyer knowledgeable on medical malpractice claims can provide you with the information necessary to protect your rights.

AUTHOR: Tolmage Peskin Harris Falick

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.



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